Two’s company, three’s a crowd, and four well four’s a baseball team.
The Brooklyn Cyclones live together — mostly in groups of four — in dorms at Polytechnic University, located in Downtown Brooklyn. First baseman Ian Bladergroen, from Albuquerque, N.M.; third baseman Shawn Bowman, from Vancouver, Canada; pitchers Brian Bannister and new addition Dave Smith all room together. Smith replaced Brian Harvey, the outfielder recently called up to Capital City.
So what’s life like for young baseball players getting a chance to play in the greatest city in the world? Pretty much what you’d expect.
“Shawn is messy, but Brian Bannister is the messiest one of all of us,” said Bladergroen “He’s got all this food and he’s always leaving it out. Like his Cheerios. Right now he’s got Cheerios sitting on our living room table.”
But they don’t exactly live in a pigsty — there always seems to be at least one “Felix Unger” type in the group.
“Ryan Harvey was really neat,” Bladergroen explains. “He couldn’t stand dirty dishes in the sink for more than a day, and he was always taking out the garbage. He was dubbed our ‘clean guy,’ and I think Dave is going to take over that role. Dave is always cleaning up after people.”
As you might expect, you don’t need a degree from the Culinary Institute of America in order to be deemed “head chef” in this Cyclones’ household.
“We eat out a lot,” Bladergroen says. “And Shawn has a lot of frozen foods like chicken nuggets and what not. We come back home late after a game and we pop them in the oven, and 15 minutes later they’re ready. I love ’em.”
But not everything on the menu is agreed upon. “Brian Bannister is a real soup-and-stew kind of guy. He eats real healthy. I don’t touch his stuff,” Bladergroen said. “He eats all kind of soups I’ve never heard of, like ‘black bean.’ He’s too healthy for me. He’s coming out of Southern Cal where they teach those guys how to eat right. I’m still living on junk food for as long as I can.”
How do these four Cyclones share their space and the household responsibilities?
“Shawn and I have our own room, Brian and Dave have their own room, and everybody shares the living room and the kitchen,” Bladergroen said.
“We have a TV in our dorm suite, and it’s always tuned to Sportscenter [on ESPN]. I love watching baseball with Brian Bannister. I think he learned a lot of baseball from his father (former major league pitcher Floyd Bannister). Brian’s real knowledgeable about baseball, so I love talking to him while we watch the games.”
It may not look like New Mexico, but Brian also loves the scenery.
“The team is on the 15th, 16th and 17th floors up there, and we have a beautiful view of Manhattan, off to our right.”
Once in a while, the Clones will even take a trip there.
“Sometimes on Sunday we get out early and go to get something to eat,” Bladergroen said. “We went to Union Square one night, and we ate in Little Italy another time.”
Mostly, though, the Cyclones spend their time on the playing field, and are always early arrivals at Keyspan Park. Once there, they continue to engage in one of their daily pursuits: the foraging for food — inexpensive food, because the typical first year professional minor leaguer makes $850 a month.
While Bladergroen received his nickname, “The Blade,” from his last name, it might as well have come from his physique. Despite his ravenous appetite and obvious strength, he sports only 210 pounds over a 6-foot-5 frame. And the Blade knows exactly where he can pursue his gustatory choices near the home ballpark.
“At Coney Island, the Mermaid Deli [located a block from the ballpark on Mermaid Avenue] is great. I love that place,” he said. “My favorite there is the Buffalo chicken sandwich, and I love their Swiss cheese on those rolls. I could go for one right now, actually.”
The Cyclones also spend a lot of time on the road, where they receive $20 per day meal money and they try not to spend it all at one place. On the way to games, the team bus usually stops at highway fast food places like Burger King.
“Here in Williamsport,” reports Bladergroen, “we sometimes eat in the [TGI] Friday’s Restaurant, which is right at the hotel — they keep it open for us since we get back late after the games.”
Some road trips are easier than others. Take for instance a recent “trip” to Staten Island to take on the Yankees. Bowman, with his strawberry blond hair and quiet demeanor, fills us in.
“Ian has a cell phone alarm clock that wakes us up,” says the Canadian import. “We got up around 12 and ate Frosted Flakes and milk for breakfast. Then we showered and got in the van at 1 o’clock for the trip to the [Keyspan Park].
“We get about 13 or 14 guys into each van. Roger Scott, our strength and conditioning coach, and Ruben, our trainer, each drives a van. When we get to the park, we hang around for awhile, then we get our equipment and dress in collared shirts and jeans, and then load our stuff into the bus for the trip to Staten Island.
Playing on Staten Island has other advantages — like being able to make a quick getaway. During last Thursday night’s game, which featured a 25-minute delay because of an on-field brawl, the team took advantage of the close proximity of the Island.
“After the game, we didn’t shower there. We stayed in our uniforms, got in the bus and got back,” he said. “We went back to Keyspan, were there for about an hour, and then got in the vans and went back to the dorms.”
Conversely, the Cyclones would be making a four-and-a-half-hour trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to start a five game series against the Crosscutters.
“We got up around 8 am, and the vans left to go to the stadium at 8:30 and the bus left at 10 o’clock to come here [Williamsport]. We got here around 2:30 pm, then we checked into the Holiday Inn, rested for about an hour, and came here to the ballpark.”
Still, according to Bowman, life’s not much different for him and is teammates than it is for anyone else — except for all the baseball.
“We’re just a bunch of normal guys who play baseball for a living,” adds the matter of fact Bowman. “We’re no different than guys who don’t play baseball, except we do play baseball. We all love to play, that’s why we do it.”
The Cyclones split the first four games at Williamsport. On the afternoon of the final scheduled game, the players checked out of the hotel so the team is not charged for an extra day and the players have two rooms that they can relax in called getaway rooms. Because the final game was rained out, the team left early for the next stop on their road trip — Batavia, New York.
After their nine game road trip ends with a game on July 25 at Batavia, how will these roommates feel about getting back to Brooklyn?
“Brooklyn?” says Bladergroen. “Brooklyn is nuts. I love it!”